The Trump administration on Wednesday expanded a policy to keep Central American migrants in Mexico while they wait for their asylum cases to be processed in the US at the El Paso port of entry, officials said.
The expansion of the policy — called Migration Protection Protocols — represents the administration’s latest move to dissuade asylum-seekers by instituting sweeping policy changes. Already, the administration has rolled out the policy along other portions of the southwestern border, including in the San Diego region and the Calexico port of entry.
The rollout comes just two days before a federal court judge in San Francisco is set to hear an ACLU request to block the policy from continuing to be enforced. Returns of migrants back to Mexico are expected to begin later this week at the El Paso port of entry, according to a Department of Homeland Security official.
US Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents the El Paso, Texas, region, denounced the administration’s expansion of the policy and said she would introduce legislation to ensure there would be no funding for the plan.
"With this shameful policy, the administration is endangering lives, abandoning its obligation to bring forward smart solutions for our broken immigration system, and imposing on another country the task of solving our immigration challenges,” she said in a statement.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU claims that the statute cannot be used against asylum-seekers, and that it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act protections for establishing a right to apply for asylum and blocking the removal of individuals to a country where they would face persecution.
One of the plaintiffs, named “Howard Doe,” was kidnapped and held by a Mexican drug cartel on his way to the southwestern border for two weeks, according to the suit. He escaped, but he fears that the cartel will track him down as he waits in Mexico for his immigration case to proceed. Almost none of the plaintiffs, the ACLU said, were asked about their fear of being returned to Mexico.
The Mexican government, according to the agency, will allow those individuals to stay in the country until their court dates in the US. On the day of their hearing, migrants will be taken to US immigration courts for their cases to be heard. Unaccompanied children will be excluded from the policy, and people from “vulnerable populations” may be excluded on a case-by-case basis.